Applying The Dreyfus Model to the HSC

When you’re in High School, you may find yourself at times saying that you are sick and tired of all the studying. If you’re graduating next year, you may be both excited and dreading the more complex higher learning that you’ll need to do.


However, as the popular quote goes, “Learning is a never-ending process.” What you may not have observed is that the learning process consists of stages, wherein you progress from being just a newbie to an expert in any skill you want to develop.


Thankfully, Stuart E. Dreyfus and Hubert L. Dreyfus, researchers at UC Berkeley, studied the learning process and expounded on it in their 1980 paper “A Five-Stage Model of the Mental Activities Involved in Directed Skill Acquisition.” Their research has such a profound impact on education that the ideas they talked about in their paper have become known simply as the DREYFUS MODEL.

Dreyfus Model

What is the Dreyfus Model?

You already know that we human beings go through a series of growth and development stages from infancy to adulthood.


In the same vein, according to the Dreyfus Model, we also go through five developmental stages in learning and acquiring skills. These stages progress with the student’s learning the basic rules and principles and putting them into actual practice in a series of trials and errors.


As we achieve higher levels of mastery in these skills, we rely less and less on the early abstract principles we have learned in school and more on concrete experience in our day to day lives.


To better describe to you the five developmental stages of the Dreyfus Model, we shall be using as an example the process of developing good writing skills.


First Stage: Novice

The Novice is the very first stage wherein you are introduced to new knowledge and skills and you have no idea of what you’re supposed to do. For you to be able to try out this new skill, you need to learn its basic rules for you to follow, regardless of the context. This is precisely the reason why you are in school. The education that you are getting now is providing you with the basics – the foundation, so to speak – for the skills you want to develop.


In writing, these basic rules include correct spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. In order to determine your understanding of these rules, your teacher will ask you to write a short essay consisting of five paragraphs. The first paragraph is your introduction, including a single sentence on the main point you will be discussing in the essay. The body of the essay – consisting of three paragraphs – proceeds to discuss and explain the main point at length. The fifth and final paragraph is the conclusion.


It is obvious that this is writing at its most basic, so don’t expect to churn out a Pulitzer piece. However, at this novice stage, you can already develop basic writing skills in preparation for higher writing levels that would emphasize structure and style.


Second Stage: Advanced Beginner

As an advanced beginner, you start applying the rules you have learned in situations wherein you thought they will not be used. In these situations, you may find yourself making mistakes when the rules you have learned in your English class may be inappropriate to other subjects.


For example, you might find your science teacher asking you to write an essay on the metamorphosis of butterflies that you have discussed in class. You write your essay based on the rules you have learned in English class. But, when you submit your assignment, your science teacher tells you that it is not in the format that he wants and asks you to revise or rewrite it in the way he wants.


Another thing you may discover as you write essays is that your discussion may not fit the three body paragraphs. As your teacher encourages to write longer, he will add other rules, including “Avoid writing in the passive voice” and “Do not mix your past and present tenses.”


These are still basic writing skills, but all of these early essays will help sink into your brain these foundations.


Third Stage: Competent

In the competent stage, you are no longer just following the basics that you have learned in class blindly. Instead, you are prone to experiment, testing where and when these rules could be applied.


This stage can be a confusing and frustrating one because there will be situations wherein you are not sure on which rules to use or, worse, the rules don’t apply at all. As a result, you may select the rules that may work and ignore those that won’t.


For example, in your English class, you learned writing techniques like similes, alliterations, repetitions, and metaphors. You may be frustrated, at first, in trying to figure out if a simile or a comparison of one thing with another, different thing will be sufficient. Later on, while writing, you may find that metaphors may be more appropriate to express yourself. In another example, you may be struggling to get your point across. You may choose to load your essay with a lot of examples. However, your teacher will recommend after reading it that you should use fewer examples and just go straight to the point.


As frustrating as this stage may be, you may experience profound happiness and satisfaction if you have done your writing assignments very well.


Fourth Stage: Proficient

In the proficiency stage, you have not only mastered the basic rules. You already know how to apply these rules in given situations. While you still have to make a conscious choice on how to do things, there is very little doubt and confusion on what course of action you should take. Such proficiency was developed through experience and constant practice, namely those writing assignments that your teacher can’t seem to stop giving in class.


For example, while drafting your essay or paper, you may see sentences that don’t read right to you. There is no need for you to voice out the wrongness of the sentences; you already have that instinctive feeling that you can fix it and make it better. You may decide to shorten the sentence, change certain words, or delete passages in their entirety. In other cases, you may write variations of the problematic sentence and make a conscious selection on which option to use.


Fifth Stage: Expert

In the fifth stage, as an expert, you can already detect subtle differences in the things you do through intuition. You can distinguish the subtlest and refined of discriminations in anything you undertake.


Having achieved the expertise in writing, it is very easy for you to detect problems in your sentences, techniques, and styles and know how to fix them immediately. You no longer consciously deliberate on what’s wrong and what needs to be done to rectify it. Instead, you push ahead and rewrite in another way. This makes anything you do seem effortless and intuitive.

Dreyfus Model

How to Apply the Dreyfus Model in High School and Beyond

If you are wondering how this seemingly complicated Dreyfus Model can help you get good grades in school, you’ll be happy to know that its application is really very simple. The Dreyfus Model helps you to determine your developmental stage in the subjects you study in class and in the learning of skills outside of it.


Let’s be realistic here. You may reach the level of proficiency in most of your classes. However, the expert level can only be retained if you apply yourself fully into subjects that interest you and help you in the career you want in the future.


Let’s say that you want to become a journalist in the future. This means that you should place greater emphasis on subjects pertaining to writing. These would include English, essay writing, research paper writing, and/or creative writing. If you are not getting good grades in these subjects/class assignments, you may still be in the advanced beginner or competent stage. In order to reach a higher stage, you may want to consider taking writing courses online or outside the classroom.


You have probably complained in the past “I want to become a writer. Why do I have to study math and algebra?” Well, if you don’t study math subjects, you won’t be able to learn how to calculate your earnings from your part-time job or learn what those figures in charts and tables mean when you’re asked to do research on population in class.


Another major application of the Dreyfus Model is that it helps you to assess your skill level in the things you do outside the classroom. Many business companies have stated that it is no longer sufficient to have a degree to get a good job. What you need to do is to develop the relevant experience and necessary skills in your future career.


If you want to reach the level of proficiency in writing, you can apply for a position in your school newspaper. You may also try submitting articles and other stuff you had written to your local newspapers and magazines.


While you may not achieve in certain subjects not related to your field, you may develop these skills to make you more attractive to future employers. For example, if you are studying writing, you might want to consider taking up a few online subjects on basic website coding or Adobe Photoshop. In fact, computer-related subjects can help to boost your career chances since these jobs are in high demand. Mark my words. An employer will prefer to hire you if you not only know how to write, but also how to encode your articles into their websites.


How to Use the Dreyfus Model in High School

Let us now take a look at the Dreyfus model per stage and their accompanying simple tips on how you can push your learning development to higher levels.


1) Novice – As a novice, pay attention to the basic rules and principles that are being taught in your class. Always ask questions from your teacher if there’s something that you don’t understand. Outside of class, you can check out basic tutorials, beginner’s guides, or student study guides.


2) Advanced Beginner – Start experimenting with the basic rules that you learn in class and apply them in various contexts or in your other classes. Take note of what works for you and what doesn’t. Discover other, additional rules and apply them in your classes together with the basics.


3) Competent – Start building competency by applying the basic rules not just in school, but also at home and in your neighborhood. Learn from any mistakes you make. Don’t get frustrated easily or give in to the desire to give up. Consider working with your teacher or a skilled mentor to help you in assignments that you have difficulty with.


4) Proficient – The proficiency stage is important because this is the time when you need to make the decision on whether to invest more time in the subjects that you are presently competent in. Consider becoming proficient in subjects and skills that will be useful to you in the career that you will choose to pursue. Having a teacher or mentor as a guide will help to ensure that you are in your chosen path.


5) Expert – To be an expert, you need to devote more time and effort to getting the needed deliberate practice and experience. You will reach this stage after you have finished university and have spent years in your chosen career.


In Conclusion


While the Dreyfus model is an informative guide to help you determine your current learning stage and skills level, it is equally important to have set goals to keep you focused on what you want to achieve. Always remember that even if you reach the expert level, you can still make mistakes. No matter what stage you are in, always be ready to admit your mistakes and rectify them. Most importantly remain humble.


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